Four human rights groups are urging the UN Security Council to dispatch additional peacekeepers to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Orientale province to help the Congolese army contain attacks by Ugandan rebels. Human Rights Watch, Resolve Uganda, the Justice and Peace Commission of Congo’s Dungu/Doruma, and the Enough Project are also asking Britain, the United States, and countries near the DRC to pursue an arrest strategy against Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel leader General Joseph Kony and his followers, who are wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes.- - -
In Washington, the Enough Project’s Africa Advocacy Director Colin Thomas-Jensen said the attacks have escalated in the past two months and are straining the mandate of a 17-thousand troop UN peacekeeping force, known by its acronym MONUC, which has been trying to curb tensions in Congo’s neighboring North Kivu Province.
“The patterns that we’re seeing, the hit-and-run attacks on large towns that have military bases, like the town of Dungu, we think it’s part of a broader plan by the Lord’s Resistance Army to increase their ranks, to bolster their military capacity for ultimately what could be another round of conflict in region,” observed Thomas-Jensen.
Throughout the Juba peace process between Ugandan rebels and the Kampala government which took place in southern Sudan, LRA negotiators have offered and then declined to sign a final agreement to end more than 20 years of insurgency in northern Uganda. The Enough Project’s Thomas-Jensen says that this week’s most current hints that General Kony will go ahead and sign the accord might counteract the peace process and complicate the insurgency even more.
“It could actually lead to a very complicated situation, one in which Kony might actually sign a deal but then not come out of the bush. And then what do you have? You have a signed peace deal, but the rebellion remains ensconced in a national park across the border. And what does that do for any sort of military options that might be on the table? What does it do for demobilization because he signed a peace deal, but they’re still in the bush? So I think what we’re likely going to see at the end of the month is a continuation of the status quo. I don’t think we’re going to see much of a change. But if he does sign, it does alter the situation and make it somewhat more complicated,” he noted.
Thomas-Jensen says there are multiple reasons why the human rights organizations are pushing for Washington, London and Congo’s neighbors to step up the pressure to prosecute the rebels.
“First and foremost, the threat that the LRA poses to civilians, this is one of the most bitter insurgencies of all time in terms of its ability to cause terror and displace civilians at one-point-seven million Ugandans displaced by just a couple of thousand LRA fighters. Also, I think you have to put the issue of the LRA in the context of our never-ending quest for international justice. Joseph Kony is an indicted war criminal, indicted by the International Criminal Court along with four of his cohorts, two of which are now deceased. And the fact that these warrants were issued but there was no plan by the international community to execute the warrants I think speaks volumes about the gap between the rhetoric on international justice and the action,” he said.
Following Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s return to New York from last weekend’s emergency summit on the troubled Great Lakes region in Nairobi, Kenya, discussions intensified at UN headquarters as the Secretary General pressed for a ceasefire in North Kivu province, northwest of Orientale. Alan Doss, the UN chief’s special representative for Congo appealed in early October for reinforcements for MONUC, and security council consideration remains under discussion. In August, 150 current MONUC peacekeepers were dispatched to neighboring Orientale to protect civilians and help Congolese troops contain the LRA. But six DRC army deaths and three rebel fatalities in October have prompted the four human rights organizations to press for additional UN peacekeepers. Thomas-Jensen says it’s a matter for the security council urgently to sort out the priorities.
“The situation we’re seeing right now in the Congo is one that has the potential to spiral out of control pretty dramatically, and one that demands a big response, both diplomatically, but also in the immediate term militarily. I do think that there does need to be an additional deployment of troops in the Kivus. But the risk in neglecting what is a very serious and increasingly violent insurgency by the LRA in Garamba National Park, I think the risk you run in not addressing that is that we’ll have to be three, four, five, six months down the road dealing with yet another massive crisis that we’ve allowed to spill out of control,” he warned.
SUDAN: LRA rebels put Congo civilians to flight
October 22, 2008 IRIN report (via borglobe.com):
Photo: DRC refugees who fled LRA attacks registering with UNHCR officials in Gangura, Southern Sudan (Peter Martell/IRIN)
YAMBIO, 22 October 2008 (IRIN) - The recent attack on Dungu town in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo by the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) occurred on a quiet morning, displaced civilians said.
"We were in the fields working, when the warning went out that they were coming with guns," Aneshi Sheroze, a 22-year old farmer, explained.
"We ran back, but they were already killing and burning our houses, and then the Catholic mission."
The northern Ugandan insurgents, now based in remote Congolese jungle hideouts, then dragged away school children, binding their hands tightly together.
"They destroyed our homes and took the children all away," Sheroze said, recounting the attack as he queued to register with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in the southern Sudanese town of Yambio.
The attack sent the villagers trekking some 55km through thick jungle to the Sudan border, avoiding roads for fear of running into other rebel units. Sheroze carried his two young children.
Eventually, they sought shelter in the village of Gangura, some 13km inside Sudan.
The attack, the villagers told IRIN, was part of a series of raids launched by the rebel army, and marks a return to its violent trademark attacks and mass abductions following a period of largely relative calm during on-and-off peace talks.
"The LRA have raided us before for food, but this time they were killing, and destroying our grain stores," said Joyce, another Democratic Republic of Congo refugee.
Observers fear the attacks have largely sunk hopes that LRA commander Joseph Kony could sign a long-delayed peace deal hammered out in three years of negotiations.
They've also sparked fears that the rebels are now recruiting for a renewed offensive in what is already one of Africa's longest conflicts.
A preliminary report released by the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC) following a visit to the burnt villages accused the LRA of brutal attacks.
"In all localities that suffered attacks, the LRA elements conducted a campaign of killing, systematic abduction of children, and burning of almost all houses," the report reads.
Photo: The LRA, according to the refugees, destroyed homes and took the children away (Peter Martell/IRIN)
Some 4,000 refugees have fled to south Sudan according to UNHCR, but many more thousands have been displaced within the DRC. Several hundred are within southern Sudan, where the rebels also raided.
The latest violence, officials in Southern Sudan said, has put a heavy burden on the southern state of Western Equatoria, which is already struggling to reintegrate its own people returning after being displaced in Sudan's civil war. That war ended in a peace deal three years ago.
"We have refugees from the DR Congo, displaced southern Sudanese and Sudanese who have recently returned after the war," said Lexson Wali Amozai, director of the Southern Sudan Refugee and Rehabilitation Commission in Western Equatoria
"We have increased security, but many are very scared, and they need long term humanitarian assistance."
Kony and his top commanders, who head an army accused of massacring and mutilating thousands, are wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on war crimes charges.
Thousands of people, mainly in northern Uganda, have died in more than two decades of the LRA's insurgency, while nearly two million were forced from their homes at the height of the conflict.
Kony began battling the Ugandan government in 1988 for what he said was the marginalisation of northern Uganda, but his army was later driven first into Southern Sudan, then into DRC.
Now the LRA are believed to operate across the remote border areas far from control in DRC, raiding villages in Sudan as well as the Central African Republic.
The villagers from Dungu said the rebels were clearing a vast area of forest as their military base.
"They told people that these lands belong to them, and that anyone would be killed if they crossed into them," said Gungbale Gengate, a Protestant priest from Napopo village.
Gengate, whose Bible school was destroyed by rebels and is now sheltering in Yambio, dismissed reports that Kony claims torun his army on the biblical 10 Commandments.
"These people have no religion - they are killers," Gengate said.
But the LRA spokesman David Nyekorach-Matsanga claimed it was another unnamed militia who carried out the attacks.
"There are many rebel and private militias operating in that region, and these attacks were not by the LRA," said Matsanga, who is based in Kenya but claims to have regular contact with the rarely heard-from Kony.
He also rejected allegations from the ICC that the rebels had renewed recruitment, calling the Hague-based court a "pot of lies".
"The institution of (the) ICC alleges that the LRA have recruited 1,000 fighters," he said. "It is now clear that the ICC targets Africans as their specimen to be used in their laboratory in The Hague."
The refugees from Dungu insisted the attacks were by the LRA. "We know them, because they have raided us many times, looting our houses for food," said Joyce.
"This time they were killing people...When they attacked I hid behind my hut because I wanted to get what I could of my belongings, and I saw them clearly."
Many of the refugees say they have been treated well on their arrival in southern Sudan, in a region where many speak the same Zande language.
However, they are fearful of the future, without homes and few job prospects in a region itself chronically under developed and recovering from war.
"They have destroyed our lives," said Joyce. pm/sr